Waco Winery and Vineyards will continue to make wines, hold tours and have weekend events at its facility at 6826 E. State Highway 6, but soon it will be adding a tasting room in downtown Waco.
Owner Jerry Federico and general manager Rebekah Gilliam are hoping to have that tasting room at 708 Austin Ave. open by the end of September. It will include a rooftop patio for the enjoyment of customers. Gilliam said music and dancing will be part of the activities at the tasting room, and not just on Friday nights like the “Wine-Down Fridays” it currently holds at the Highway 6 facility. Gilliam envisions music three nights a week and perhaps even a poetry night. She said everything about the downtown tasting room will be local – from local performers and artwork, down to the tables being built for the place.
Federico has owned Waco Winery, formerly Tehuacana Creek Winery, since 2014 when founder Ulf Westblom stepped away from the daily operation of the winery. Westblom remains a part owner in the business. “Ulf and I have been friends since 1999,” Federico said. “He taught me about winemaking and is my mentor.” When Westblom chose to step back he “wanted to keep in the family, so to speak,” and Federico was glad to continue.
The name change to Waco Winery and Vineyards made sense, too, Federico said, noting that the business would show up as “Waco winery” on Internet searches. The winery has done well at the Highway 6 location, he said, noting that visitors from out of state and even other counties have visited there. But having a tasting room downtown will give the business a much better presence, he said, and not everyone from Waco felt like making the short drive out of town. He also noted that parking at the Highway 6 site could be problematic in inclement weather, and sometimes they had to cancel events. “People want a consistent schedule,” he said. “The tasting room will give us a presence. I think it will make a big difference.”
Another initiative Federico is excited about is a “buy the vine, buy the wine” concept. In this program, a customer will purchase grapevines that Waco Winery will plant, care for and ultimately produce wine specifically for the customer with grapes grown from those vines. “It’s like a super wine club,” he said.
Waco Winery primarily produces port-type wines. Its Malbec and Tempranillo wines are popular, but Federico is expanding the choices. For example, the business now has three dry red wines available because there’s more of a call for those. “The wine palate of Texas is becoming more sophisticated,” said Federico, who has lived in Central Texas since 1984. “Mainly people wanted the sweeter wines and lighter reds. Now there’s more interest in deeper reds and robust wines.”
Gilliam added that the downtown tasting room will have a balanced offering of wines. The downtown site had been a plan for a while, Federico said, it just ended up taking longer than he hoped. “The community has been really supportive,” he said. “It’s a family thing and we’re learning from our customers. Rebekah has done a great job in providing what the community wants.” Opening that downtown site can’t come soon enough. “In 2014, we had some grand ideas,” Federico said. “It’s taken longer than I thought, but I think the patience will pay off.”